Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shackles: I Want to Be Free by Joseph Slate

Before I die, I want to be free.
But the Big Man says, "You belong to me."

I break the chain. I have no key.
Can't force the ring. It won't come free

With the cruel shackle still around his leg, a young man escapes by night and manages to reach the deep woods camp of the "gone free men," who give him temporary succor. But the Big Man's dogs are on his trail, and the runaway flees deeper into the woods to keep from leading them to the camp.

As he hides during the night, he hears a whimper and finds a solitary little boy, sick and abandoned. Despite his fear of capture, he picks up the boy and carries him through the swamp.

"Oh, no," says I, "we'll run to the wild.
The Lord will help me care for this child.

The ring burned fearsome. It scoured my skin.
But there was no way I was gonna give in."

And that's how we got to the land of the free.
But the ring was still a sorrow to me.

But one day long after, the child touches the shackle, still rusting on his friend's ankle, and it falls away, leaving him to live free --free of the Big Man and free of the memory of slavery.

Although author Joseph Slate is best known for his popular Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten series, his I Want to be Free (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009) reworks a tale from the Buddha to re-tell this parable in a anti-bellum setting, admirably aided by E. B. Lewis' strikingly realistic and evocative paintings which illustrate every page.



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